Google and Facebook have now made it possible to find photos of firearms by simply typing a serial number into the search box. Earlier today, the automotive website Jalopnik published a story showing how license plate numbers are evidently scanned using optical character recognition (OCR) on Google images, allowing them to be searchable using text queries. Using the OCR hypothesis, TFB wondered if this image data mining technique might be able to be used to search for firearm serial numbers. Using images posted previously on TFB with serial numbers displayed on firearms, we tested the serial number search technique. As you can see from the results below, firearm serial numbers are in fact part of this apparent large-scale data mining operation by companies like Google and Facebook.
It appears Google, with the help of Facebook, is archiving this information and making it easier to aggregate. In order to further test this theory, I tried a different serial number, this time from a silencer review. Placing the search term in quotes, Google is forced to search for only that specific character string. Here are the results.
Facebook and Google are Reading and Cataloging Your Firearm Serial Numbers. If you’re an avid TFB reader, you might have read our article about how we’re not concerned about posting firearms serial numbers. However, this does not mean that we should be complacent in the information that we share being controlled or censored.
It’s clear that the firearms community is not being singled out by this data mining operation. And no, you as an individual cannot readily lookup someone’s personal information with only firearm serial numbers. Regardless of this, Instagram is owned by Facebook, and YouTube is owned by Google. As both of these companies are privately owned, but heavily relied upon, the knowledge of this publicly available data mine is unsettling.
Earlier this year, our Instagram account was deleted with seemingly no explanation. TFB has been able to restore the account, but a clear explanation was never provided as to why it was deleted.
This serial number was obscured when it was loaded in to TFB for the story.
The author Austin R. is a military contractor who enjoys conducting independent firearms research and reloading. Article inquiries and suggestions are welcome at austinjrex at gmail.com